'We know what she is like, don't rise to her bait' - Britain ready for Yulia Putintseva test in Fed Cup

Simon Briggs
Katie Boulter, Johanna Konta and Anne Keothavong are prepared for battle in London - Getty Images Europe

Great Britain’s Fed Cup ties have delivered no end of drama in the last couple of years, including Ilie Nastase’s toxic intervention in Constanta and Johanna Konta’s emotional collapse in Bath.

There is every chance that this weekend’s World Group play-off at London’s Copper Box will follow suit. Not only is the visiting Kazakh team led by the most inflammable character on the WTA tour, but the woman in question – Yulia “Poots” Putintseva – had an acrimonious run-in with British captain Anne Keothavong nine years ago.

Saturday’s schedule has Putintseva playing the second rubber against British No 2 Katie Boulter, who holds a 100 per cent Fed Cup record after winning all four of her singles matches in Bath in February.

Asked on Friday if Boulter had been briefed on the sorts of provocation she is likely to face, Keothavong replied: “We all know what she [Putintseva] is like. But the players are professional. You know what's coming but it's important that they stay in their little own bubble and don't rise to her bait.

“That's what's got her to where she is. She's got tremendous character, a huge personality out there on the court. But we've got fantastic competitors in the team who are capable of dealing with her.”

Putintseva’s behaviour twice made headlines during January’s Australian Open: first when she gave her defeated first-round opponent Barbora Strycova a bone-crushing handshake (“She squeezed me, like, hardcore!” complained Strycova) and then when she issued a one-fingered salute to the crowd during her next match.

“Believe it or not, off the court she is a completely different person,” insisted the Kazakh captain Dias Doskarayev. “She has this very positive fighting spirit that can go the wrong way in the tough moments, because she is emotional and she really cares.”

Keothavong – who retired in 2013 – acknowledged on Friday that she had faced Putintseva in her own playing career. But it was left to Putintseva herself, between smiles and giggles that supported Doskarayev’s contention, to fill in the details.

“I just remember that I beat Keothavong when I was very young,” said Putintseva, in reference to a second-tier match in Nantes in 2010. “I was 14 years old [actually 15].

“She was not very nice with me, she didn’t shake my hand and said that I was too loud, that I was screaming ‘Come on’ so loud, she went to talk to the refs. So it was kind of funny that she said I had a character. But I am going to do my best anyway.”

In Monte Carlo, world No 1 Novak Djokovic continued his indifferent run of results since the Australian Open, losing in three sets to the fast-rising Russian Daniil Medvedev: 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.